For more than a decade, a severe drought — one of the worst in the last 1,200 years — has gripped the Colorado River, causing the world’s most extensive storage reservoir system to come closer and closer to critically low water levels. The region moved a step closer to addressing the long-term effects of this imbalance last week when municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado signed a landmark water conservation agreement with the federal government. The agreement -- the Colorado River System Conservation Program -- was developed in support of the Colorado River basin states’ drought contingency planning.
Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority are partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to contribute $11 million to fund pilot Colorado River water conservation projects. The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary- compensated measures for reducing water demand in a variety of areas, including agricultural, municipal and industrial uses.
The funders will review and select projects for funding based on criteria such as cost, anticipated water yield, risk, ease of verification and geographic diversity. In Arizona, California and Nevada, BOR will request proposals for agricultural, municipal or industrial water conservation projects that will save Colorado River water in Lake Mead and will contract with individual entitlement holders to implement that conservation. In Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, conservation projects will be contracted through the states, the Upper Colorado River Commission or other appropriate entity. All projects and programs will need to clearly demonstrate conservation savings to the Colorado River that can be directly measured and quantified. If the conservation program proves successful, the partners expect to expand it by broadening the scope and funding participation.
For CAP, this agreement represents a unique approach to saving water and protecting the Colorado River system from the impacts of the ongoing drought and the current imbalance between supplies and demands. All water conserved under this program will stay in the river, helping to boost the declining reservoir levels and benefiting the health of the entire river system.